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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 28th January 2012

If you’ve come to this page directly, you may not realise that this the second part of a two part analysis of ‘Drug Legalisation: An Evaluation of the Impacts on Global Society’ described as a ‘Position Statement’ and appearing on The International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy (ITFSDP) website.

That first part looked at the first two pages of the statement and though this second part will, again, draw attention to flawed logic, unevidenced claims and circular contradictions within the document, I think it is worth looking at them individually rather than just saying pages three to six contain more of the same.

For example, writing ‘it is alleged, in contradiction to evidence, that prohibition has produced more costs’ without demonstrating what this evidence is means nothing. We’re expected to take the word of an unnamed author. Only those who are already fully signed up to the prohibition agenda would do that and there is really little point in ‘preaching to the choir’.

‘It is further argued irrationally that police time would not be wasted on minor drug offences’

Can anyone tell me what is irrational about saying that, if there is no such thing as a ‘minor drug offence’ then the police cannot waste time on minor drug offences?

I mentioned, yesterday, that this document seeks to make it seem as though those calling for reform are extraordinarily well-funded and I pointed out that Melanie Phillips had made a ridiculous claim about a 'trillion dollar campaign'.

Today, thanks to @AlexStevensKent, I heard David Raynes on a recent BBC Radio5 Live programme making a very similar claim. It does seem that those supporting the status quo have decided that this red herring may help their case.

(Incidentally, Raynes completed misrepresented the Hughes/Stevens paper on Portugal.)

But, on page 3, the statement goes from being funny to being offensive. Three possible definitions of ‘legalisation’ are given but, instead of examining the difference between these three definitions, the document simply treats all three as one when it comes to parroting what these definitions are supposed to mean. It says ‘To achieve the agenda of drug legalisation, advocates argue for’ and gives a list of alleged arguments. These include;

'• an inclusion of drug users as equal partners in establishing and enforcing drug policy; and
• protection for drug users at the expense and to the detriment of non-users under the
pretense of “human rights.”'

Obviously, in the world of the supporters of this ‘Position Statement’ drug users are second class citizens or worse who should have no say in how their drug use is regulated and who do not deserve ‘human rights’. That is the sort of attitude to drug users that sees no harm in the use of the death penalty to deal with drug offences.

Happily, the statement moves from offensive back to confused by equating the harm caused by drugs with the harm caused by prohibition. It then has another internally illogical moment by stating that the UN conventions allow for medicinal use of the scheduled substances. This after previously saying that one of the tactics of reformers is to argue in favour of ‘legalising marijuana and other illicit drugs as a so-called medicine’.

The statement moves on to try and argue for the present regime but it does so with many baseless assertions and quite a few illogical claims. In suggesting that prohibition works, it chooses dates for comparisons that fit its point and claims that opium production has fallen since 2008 completely ignoring the growth before then and completely ignoring the effect of disease in Afghanistan on output in 2010. And it claims that HIV/AIDs would increase when all the evidence is that regulated supply of heroin reduces infection via shared needles.

I’ve said before that it is flawed to look at the illicit substances separately from the licit. The statement claims that ‘legalisation’ would increase the number of road accidents and accidents at work, because of increased drug use. That may be possible, though it requires one to accept the suggestion that drug use would increase, but the need is to assess what the effect would be of substitution from alcohol to other substances to see if a reduction in drunk driving would more than offset any increase in driving under the effects of other substances.

Then there is the claim;

‘Legalisation would not take the profit out of the drug trade as criminals will always
find ways of countering legislation. They would continue their dangerous activities
including cutting drugs with harmful substances to maximise sales and profits.’

As we know from recent incidents in India, people will produce cheap alcohol to supply those who can’t afford legally available booze. But, clearly, anyone who could afford properly produced, known strength, drugs would not buy unknown quality products and anyone looking to provide adulterated products to poorer consumers could not make the same profits they do today.

There is, as you would expect, a lot of cherry-picking. There are claims about how research is showing the long-term detrimental effects of drug use but no mention of research suggesting that there may be no long-term harm and, possibly, some benefit of moderate use.

Then there is another strawman argument;

‘It is inaccurate to suggest that the personal use of drugs has no consequential and
damaging effects.’

I know no reformer who claims that all personal use is harmless. There can be consequential and harmful effects for those whose use is out of control but you don’t reduce the problems of that very small minority by criminalising the vast majority. Expecting that strawman to stand, the statement goes on;

'Apart from the harm to the individual users, drugs affect others by addiction, violence, criminal behaviour and road accidents.'

If personal drug use is not criminal, then the amount of ‘criminal behaviour’ associated with it will be significantly reduced.

Just occasionally, there is a factually correct statement but the logical conclusion to be drawn from it is ignored. Saying;

‘All drugs can be dangerous including prescription and over the counter medicines if
they are taken without attention to medical guidance.’

Should lead the reader to the conclusion that not being able to offer usage guidance for substances like ecstasy or cocaine because these substances are illegal is the way to make their use more dangerous.

There’s another example with;

‘Drug production causes huge ecological damage and crop erosion in drug producing

Is perfectly true but so does all agricultural production if it is uncontrolled. Making the growing of Papaver somniferum, opium poppies, or Cannabis sativa, marijuana, legitimate means that proper land management techniques can be applied so that ecological damage would be reduced.

The penultimate paragraph repeats the point made on page 1 that the existing regime is based on UN conventions inferring that this means they can never be changed.

But, the final paragraph demonstrates the key divide between prohibitionists and reformers because it begins with a sentence to which both groups would agree;

‘Any government policy must be motivated by the consideration that it must first do
no harm.’

The problem comes in that reformers are convinced that the existing regime is doing a great deal of harm. Based on this ‘Position Statement’, it is clear that prohibitionists don’t believe that to be the case but they have not found an author who can cogently argue that no harm results from the current regime.